I was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. I was on temporary duty at the Submarine Base at the time servicing torpedoes from the USS Schley (DD-103), on which I was a permanent crew member. Schley was going through a complete overhaul at the Navy Yard across the channel in Pearl Harbor from the Sub Base. I believe she was tied up across from the cruiser, Honolulu, which was bombed. Schley, I also believe, was being converted to an APD, which would transport Marines for fast beach landings in some of the future battles to come in the South Pacific.
Although the Sub Base was only strafed with machine gun bullets from the Japanese planes during the attack, it turned out to be a super blunder by the Japs for not bombing it. It remained intact and was able to supply submarines with torpedoes without disruption during the entire War to conduct their Patrols and sink Japanese shipping.
I did not really get involved in doing anything except to witness the flight of the Japanese planes making their run down the channel, dropping torpedoes into the water which sank the battleships, Arizona, Oklahoma and California. The Japanese planes were so close to the Submarine Base in making their torpedo runs and dive bombing that I could have thrown rocks and hit some of the planes.
View looking toward the Navy Yard from the Submarine Base during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The submarine in the left foreground is the USS Narwhal (SS-167). In the distance are several cruisers, with large cranes and the 1010 Dock in the right center.
(Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Image Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.)
I was a Third Class Torpedoman during the Japanese attack. After the attack and the completion of my destroyer's overhaul, I returned in January or February, 1942, to my ship with the 12 torpedoes. We were assigned to patrol the mouth (entrance) to Pearl Harbor. During the few months that I was still on Schley, we made many attacks on Japanese submarines while patrolling the entrance. On one occasion, my watch was on the bridge of the destroyer when contact was made with a Japanese submarine. Our sonar system picked it up and we dropped several, probably 16 depth charges, since each depth charge rack on our stern held eight depth charges each. I was the person who released the depth charges when given the command to do so by the Skipper of Schley. I believe our destroyer got credit for sinking a Jap submarine this time.
Shortly thereafter, I was sent to the States to put a new destroyer into commission. I want you to know that when the War started in December, 1941, the entire U.S. Navy complement was only about 250,000. I believe when the War ended in August, l945, it had grown to 1,900,000. So you can readily see that not only were submarines sending their seasoned trained sailors to new construction, but destroyers were doing the same. I was in a most needed rating and left in 1942 to put a new destroyer in commission in Newport News, VA. But first, the Navy was coming out with a new destroyer torpedo and I was sent to Newport, Rhode Island, to attend an Advanced School.
Now comes the rub. Guess who was my Class Instructor? . . . Yep, you guessed it. An old Retired Submarine Chief, who was recalled to active duty to teach. Now I am a 21-year old qualified Torpedoman, and the Submarine Service was in dire need of them. He sort of wined and dined me to transfer into the Sub Service. I had recently met the girl I was later to marry, Laura Leible, in St. Louis, before I went to the Torpedo School and I made a deal with him. If he could get me a couple weeks leave, I would transfer to the Submarine Base in New London. He agreed and that is how I got into submarines.
After attending Submarine School, I was flown to Pearl Harbor and was promoted to First Class Torpedoman. I was assigned to the USS Permit (SS-178), and made one War Patrol on her with "Moon" Chapple out of Pearl Harbor. After qualification, I was assigned to Orion, the submarine tender, and went to Brisbane, Australia, where I picked up Darter going out on her Second War Patrol in March, 1944.
The Chief of the Boat was a Chief Gunner's Mate, and the Chief Torpedoman was sent to the States for new construction. I then took over the Forward Torpedo Room on the Darter. Her Skipper was William S. Stovall, a good buddy of "Moon" Chapple. We had some nice discussions. He had been on many War Patrols and was relieved of command prior to the Third War Patrol.
I was lucky enough to be on the bridge one night on our Second War Patrol when Darter made a surface attack on a Japanese ship. We were patrolling somewhere around Borneo, I believe. I understand that Japan was getting their oil from there and were patrolling the entrance of a harbor. I decided to get some fresh air and took the forward lookout station. We spotted a Jap ship and immediately attacked it. I was fortunate enough to see our torpedoes hit and sink it. Immediately after firing, we turned tail and headed back out to deep water.
David McClintock was put in command of Darter in June, 1944. Also relieved was Dick Gebhardt, the Executive Officer. Ernie Schwab became her Exec and Denny Wilkinson, later to command the first atomic submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), was promoted from Gunnery/Torpedo Officer to Engineering Officer. When he was the Torpedo Officer, we had some great discussions and played a lot of cribbage and acey duecy on Darter.
Frank Ruma standing beside Captain David H. McClintock at the Dedication Ceremony of the Darter/Dace Submariner Memorial in Marquette, Michigan, May 27th, 2000.
(Image Courtesy of Frank Ruma, TM1(SS), Darter, 3/44-10/44; and TMC(SS), Menhaden, 6/45-10/45)